Who first said “How odd of God to choose the Jews? …ask the rabbi

February 5, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers this and other questions. 


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. I heard someone talk about a “kosher suit”. How can there be such a thing?

A. “Kosher” clothing contains no “sha’atnez”, the mixture of wool and linen. This is one of several Biblical laws about forbidden mixtures (Lev. 19:19, Deut. 22:9-11).

According to the Mishnah (Kilayim 9:8), “sha’atnez” denotes three processes, “shu’a” (combing), “tavi” (spinning) and “nuz” (twisting). The Biblical law applies if all three steps have been employed.

Other combinations, e.g. wool and linen which have only been pressed into felt, are prohibited by rabbinical decree, though Maimonides holds that they too are covered by the Biblical law.

Even one thread anywhere in the garment can create “sha’atnez”, which applies not only to normal garments but to items which easily wrap around or rest on part of the body, e.g. towels, pillows and blankets.

However, there is no problem if a person is wearing two separate pieces of clothing such as a woollen suit and a linen shirt, as they are not combined into one garment.

Chemical and microscope tests can easily identify wool and linen fibres, and if there is a problem of “sha’atnez” it can usually be remedied with some minor tailoring work.

“Sha’atnez” does not apply to synthetic fibres, though sometimes even 100% polyester suits can contain linen in the padding, collar supports, seam bindings, etc.

There have been many attempts to discover the rationale behind the “sha’atnez” law.

One view is that it was God’s intention at the time of creation that every species or category should preserve its own distinct identity.

The Midrash associates the law with the story of Cain and Abel. Linen, coming from the flax plant, recalls Cain’s offering; wool, from the sheep, is a reminder of Abel’s, and the meeting of the two represents the encounter between the two brothers which led to jealousy and murder.

In ancient days a kohen was allowed to wear “sha’atnez” because only he, as God’s representative, could reconcile and synthesise all diverse elements.


Q. Is there a Jewish attitude to non-physical evolution?

A. Physical evolution is the subject of a separate discussion, but we can discern at least two other varieties of evolution.

There is spiritual evolution, about which Rav Kook said: “Gradual evolution is one of the countless ways in which He Who is the Life of the Universe reveals Himself”.

There is also ethical evolution, whereby humanity becomes more and more moral and responsible.

Both have a beginning in God and didn’t just germinate. Both processes are within man’s potential, but both have problems with the idea of the survival of the fittest.

In neither case is the development constant and inexorable, and in both cases events such as the Holocaust threaten both the process of development and the possibility of human history reaching the messianic goal.

Fortunately Judaism is optimistic enough to believe that God watches over His world and will not let life be cut off prematurely. As the siddur says, “renews daily the work of creation”.


Q. Who originated the famous words, “How odd of God to choose the Jews”?

A. The question was debated in the correspondence columns of the London Jewish Chronicle some years ago.

More than one writer said that it began in a conversation in the Savage Club and the words originated with a foreign correspondent, William Norman Ewer (1885-1977).

In response, someone else said,
But not so odd
as those who choose
the Jewish God
but spurn the Jews.

Another response was,
Oh no
it’s not;
God knows
what’s what.

Yet another:
Not odd
of God;
the goyim
annoy ‘im.

True, there are views that the original comment originated with Hilaire Belloc or GK Chesterton, neither of them too well disposed towards Jews, but it is more likely that Ewer, a philo-semite, was the author.

Commenting on Chesterton’s antisemitism, the poet Humbert Wolfe wrote:
Here lies GK Chesterton
who to heaven would have gone
But didn’t when he heard the news
that the place was run by Jews.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.


One Response to “Who first said “How odd of God to choose the Jews? …ask the rabbi”
  1. Grraham de Vahl Davis says:

    I like the response of Jim Sleeper, an American author and journalist:

    Moses, Jesus, Marx, Einstein, and Freud; No wonder the goyim are annoyed.

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